Myrtle Beach says "I do!" to wedding tourism

One segment of the tourism market that Myrtle Beach will target this year is weddings. Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce officials say the chamber will focus more of its marketing efforts on promoting the Grand Strand as a wedding destination.

It's a market that primed for growth on the Grand Strand, according to Myrtle Beach wedding planner Cheryl Cox. Last year, 25 percent of all marriage services performed in the U.S. were destination weddings, according to Destination Wedding magazine.

It's an $18 billion market and Cox says Myrtle Beach could grab a bigger share of it.

Last week, Cox and a Chamber marketing official met with media sources in New York, to pitch the Grand Strand as a good wedding destination.

Cox says one thing they stressed was the area's versatility.

"We cover quite a gamut from beach weddings to plantation weddings to weddings if you want something more rustic, whether a barn or country type, Low Country weddings. We offer it all," Cox said.

Cox says people used to get married in their hometowns, but today, couples are better educated and more inclined to travel, with brides and grooms planning their weddings around things they like to do.

"For example, if the groom wants to come to the Grand Strand, we have wonderful golf courses and we have that opportunity, the ladies can have shopping or spa day, so we also have the wonderful entertainment venues."

Taylor Damonte, from Coastal Carolina University's Clay Brittain Center for Resort Tourism, thinks 2013 will be a good year for Grand Strand tourism in general, with hotel occupancy up about 1 to 2 percent, and room prices up 3 to 4 percent.

But as for the wedding segment of the market, Damonte says the Grand Strand could do better.

"I think that's an area where our product could be improved relative to what people envision in a beach wedding," Damonte said. "There are very few places where you can actually look at the ocean and say your vows."

Cox stresses that Myrtle Beach is affordable, with a good reputation as a family beach. She says many wedding guests today plan entire vacations around attending a wedding.

"Often people are going to extend their stay, so they're going to come in and spend a whole week and the wedding is going to be the highlight of the week," Cox said.

Cox says today, many people who visited the area as children on a family vacation are choosing to come back to get married here.